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'Too tough to ignore': ABs hero expects two bolters in RWC squad

By Finn Morton
Shaun Stevenson. (Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Former All Black Stephen Donald believes two bolters will be named in next year’s Rugby World Cup squad, including an in-form outside back who will be “too tough to ignore.”

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After an up and down international season, which began with a first ever series loss in New Zealand against Ireland, the All Blacks seemed to hit their stride in the back end of the year.

While they had to overcome a genuine scare against a valiant Japan side in Tokyo, New Zealand went unbeaten throughout their end-of-season tour.

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The All Blacks recorded an emphatic win over Wales in Cardiff, before beating Scotland in Murrayfield and then drawing with England in London.

But with the season now over, and with a year of international blockbusters now just a collection of memories and history, the focus has already shifted to next year’s World Cup.

New Zealand begin their World Cup campaign against tournament hosts France at Stade de France in early September, in what promises to be a crucial clash for both nations.

It’s undeniable that the All Blacks will have to be at their best to not only beat Les Bleus, but to win the tournament – so just as they did with Nehe Milner-Skudder in 2015, they may look to some fresh faces to spur the team to World Cup glory.

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Rugby World Cup hero and icon Stephen ‘Beaver’ Donald, who famously kicked the winning penalty in the 2011 final, believes Shaun Stevenson will be on the plane to France.

“Shaun Stevenson will finally get the No. 15 jersey for the Chiefs for the entire campaign, he will flow on from his magnificent Barbarians and New Zealand XV form, and he will just too tough to ignore,” Donald said on SENZ’s The Run Home.

“He will be next year’s Nehe Milner-Skudder scenario.”

While Stevenson has simply been phenomenal in every jersey he’s played in this year, it’s still a bold call from Beaver considering the depth the team has in their outside backs.

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Donald believes Leicester Fainga’anuku, Will Jordan and Damian McKenzie will all make the squad along with Stevenson, which leaves a number of stars potentially battling it out for one spot.

All Blacks stars Caleb Clarke, Sevu Reece, Braydon Ennor, Mark Telea and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck could all, theoretically, by vying for the final spot in the 33-man squad.

“My outside backs right now and this is obviously ridiculous, Leicester I am going to keep me all in on Leicester. I think there’s x-factor galore there,” he said.

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“Will Jordan, obviously he’s going. Damian McKenzie, you’re going. This is where it gets tantalizing.

“Clarke, Reece, Telea, Ennor, RTS all scrap it out for one spot for me and I give that one spot to Sevu Reece.”

But Stevenson wasn’t the only bolter in Donald’s way-too-early World Cup squad.

The All Blacks have talented halfbacks in their ranks, but two World Cup hopefuls are in a race to be fit for the sports biggest tournament after sustaining injuries this year.

Folau Fakatava and TJ Perenara are both set for lengthy stints on the sidelines, which could open the door for a up-and-coming 22-year-old Hurricanes scrum-half.

“My smokey, I think Cam Roigard could well and truly be in the mix.

“I’m thinking Fakatava and Perenara are going to struggle fitness wise to be really in cosndieration if we’re being realistic.

“Therefore you’ve got Smith obviously starting, and then you could go Christie and Weber but for me the three of them are absolutely like for like.

“The reason I’ve always said that Perenara’s days are never done is because he’s different to all of them, he’s probably more like Fakatava.

“Maybe it’s Smith, Weber, Roigard three.”

With Perenara out for up to nine months are rupturing his Achilles in the dramatic draw with England, Roigard may be the Hurricanes’ go-to starter throughout next year’s Super Rugby campaign.

While he’s starred for Counties Manukau in the Bunnings NPC, and has played some valuable minutes at Super Rugby level, this could be his best chance yet to prove himself.

And what a time to potentially be given that opportunity.

“He’s a bigger body, defensively bigger, strong around the fringes and he’s gonna get the opportunity to start every game for the Hurricanes this year.

“We saw what he did in the NPC. Maybe this is the bolter.

“There’s always a bolter, always a bolter.”

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